Do you Believe in Christmas?

For the discussion of spirituality -- from LDS and non-LDS sources
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Heber13
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Do you Believe in Christmas?

Post by Heber13 » 03 Dec 2014, 13:00

My family is getting very excited about the holiday. There are many things to enjoy about it (and there is also stress about it).

I just received an email from the First Presidency on the message of Christmas "He is the Gift".

No...I'm not buddies with the prophet...he doesn't email me and ask for replies :shock: ...I just have an account with LDS.org and I think we all are starting to get these emails in our inbox.

So...Christmas...a great time to think of a great message. Right?

We often talk on this board about literal vs mythical, historical vs allegorical, visitation vs vision. So...how do you feel about Christmas?
When one goes deeply into these texts, it also becomes obvious that even the original authors of Matthew and Luke never intended their stories to be accounts of something that actually happened. That is something Western believers have imposed on these biblical texts. It was Dr. Jeffrey John, a New Testament scholar in the United Kingdom, who first identified these birth narratives for me as "haggadic midrash," by which he meant that they are part of the ongoing Jewish storytelling tradition crafted out of the pieces of the Jews' sacred past. They were designed to introduce Jesus, who in his adult life made people believe that a God presence had appeared in human history, in a unique way into this life. They were not intended to say anything factual about the details of his birth.
Read more here
I'm not talking about the Santa Claus story...I'm talking the true meaning of Christmas...the birth of Jesus, with the virgin birth and angels and Herod and shepherds and magi and stars.

- Have you been comfortable with the story of Christmas (or parts of it) not being literal, but you have struggles with Joseph Smith's experiences, or the Book of Abraham, or the multiple First Vision accounts when you found out they didn't seem to happen as you thought?
- Do you feel lied to by the world for presenting the Christmas story literally, when it is only recently they are acknowledging it isn't?
- How does Christmas compare to other topics in Mormonism that seem to jar people from their faith?
- Do you believe in Christmas still, or do you see less value in it than you used to, even if it didn't literally happen as told?
Luke: "Why didn't you tell me? You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father."
Obi-Wan: "Your father... was seduced by the dark side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true... from a certain point of view."
Luke: "A certain point of view?"
Obi-Wan: "Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to...depend greatly on our point of view."

Curt Sunshine
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Re: Do you Believe in Christmas?

Post by Curt Sunshine » 03 Dec 2014, 13:19

I am totally agnostic about the events surrounding the birth narrative, and I lean intellectually to the midrash explanation (about lots of things, ancient and more modern) - but I love the traditional narrative, anyway. I just like the messages it conveys, whether the story is literal or figurative and whatever the original intent was.

So, yes, I "believe" in Christmas in a very real way.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

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mom3
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Re: Do you Believe in Christmas?

Post by mom3 » 03 Dec 2014, 13:23

I use this very conundrum as one of my key reasons I stay. I believe in Christmas. My husband finds it a questionable answer, but it works for me and others when they think about it.

I can pull the entire Nativity/Magi story apart, heck I grew up in the Church that claimed April 6 as Christ's real birthday, so paradigm shifting on that not a problem. That's also where I think Mormonism will continue to move forward, as generations get a different story line they will move along just fine.

For me Christmas tugs at a spirituality I can't replace. It may all be emotion based, memory filled, and totally factless - but it works for me. So yes I believe, yes I stay. All that changes is how I practice both of them.
"I stayed because it was God and Jesus Christ that I wanted to follow and be like, not individual human beings." Chieko Okazaki Dialogue interview

"I am coming to envision a new persona for the Church as humble followers of Jesus Christ....Joseph and his early followers came forth with lots of triumphalist rhetoric, but I think we need a new voice, one of humility, friendship and service. We should teach people to believe in God because it will soften their hearts and make them more willing to serve." - Richard Bushman

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Heber13
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Re: Do you Believe in Christmas?

Post by Heber13 » 03 Dec 2014, 14:29

mom3 wrote:For me Christmas tugs at a spirituality I can't replace. It may all be emotion based, memory filled, and totally factless - but it works for me. So yes I believe, yes I stay. All that changes is how I practice both of them.
And did this view develop prior to changes in your view of church and church history, or along with that some faith transition?
Luke: "Why didn't you tell me? You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father."
Obi-Wan: "Your father... was seduced by the dark side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true... from a certain point of view."
Luke: "A certain point of view?"
Obi-Wan: "Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to...depend greatly on our point of view."

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nibbler
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Re: Do you Believe in Christmas?

Post by nibbler » 03 Dec 2014, 14:51

I'll share a little story about how deeply vested in the birth narrative I was. Who knows, maybe there's still some meaning in it for me.

At one point I fixated on the star that appeared. I thought that it was interesting, all the timing had to be perfect. A star was created some distance away and it had to be created at some point in time prior to the birth of Christ. The planning was meticulous; careful enough to ensure that the light from the star, which was spanning space at the speed of light, would eventually reach Earth at the precise moment it was needed to announce Christ's birth.

I even allowed myself the concession that it was a comet, supernova, a conjunction of planets, etc. instead of a star. The timing issues of it all were still valid. It was real to me.

From the article:
Do virgin births really occur anywhere except in mythology and fairy tales?
It happens this Fall on the CW. Set your DVRs. :angel:

Thanks for sharing the article. I agree with many points but I think people would do well to extend these same types of thought beyond just the birth narrative. If there's more power in pondering the symbols then think how much more all scripture opens up, not just the birth narrative.
If it is history that we desire, then let me state that the overwhelming probability is that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem but in Nazareth of Galilee. The whole Bethlehem tradition was quite clearly a much later attempt to interpret Jesus as the heir of David and thus the anticipated messianic figure who would arise out of the line of David, and whose prophesied birthplace would be Bethlehem.
Time to revisit the argument over the Book of Mormon claiming Jesus was born in Jerusalem? :angel:

One line in the article made my head spin (emphasis mine):
It is also clear from a study of early Christian documents that early Jewish critics of Jesus and the Jesus movement made similar charges, even suggesting that Jesus was the child of a Roman soldier (whether by rape or by consent is not always clear). Perhaps the virgin-birth tradition was born as a Christian defense against such charges. Those are the facts of history; beyond them, we can say little more.
There are volumes and volumes of books written on the historical Jesus and other volumes and volumes of books written on whether Jesus was divine. Some scholars agree. Some disagree. In short we can't often agree on the "facts." Plus I couldn't quite get at what the author of the article was making reference to when they wrote "those are the facts" This statement comes immediately after the author's supposition that the virgin birth claims were in defense to criticisms levied against Jesus. They lost me on that one.

Allow me to slice and dice the article for a moment:
Did it really happen? Or are these narratives a kind of religious Santa Claus story, not meant to be taken literally?

For most of the first 1,700 years of Christian history, the unchallenged answer to each of these inquiries would have been a resounding yes. Human beings lived then in a prescientific world of miracle and magic. The faith story, rooted as it was in the past, wove into its central fabric tales of wonder without either hesitation or embarrassment. But in the last 400 years of Western history, we have experienced an enormous intellectual revolution that has changed dramatically the way we view the world in which we live.
When one goes deeply into these texts, it also becomes obvious that even the original authors of Matthew and Luke never intended their stories to be accounts of something that actually happened. That is something Western believers have imposed on these biblical texts.
IMO there's the real story. Interpretations evolve over time. In a thousand more years humanity may view things in some other way that may be foreign to us now. A relatively recent event may be born out of literalism, live and die on the grapevines of life, and later resurrect as myths that carry deeper meaning. The life cycle of major events that affect large portions of humanity?

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Re: Do you Believe in Christmas?

Post by DarkJedi » 03 Dec 2014, 15:10

I believe in Christ (just not all 8 verses :lol: )

I have come to believe almost all of the OT is figurative, stories that are perhaps wrapped around actual events. I believe Israel absolutely could have been held captive in Egypt, I do not believe the things in the exodus story actually happened. C'mon, parting the Red Sea and walking across on dry land, then closing the sea so it will kill the pursuing Egyptians? Nice sci-fi like story, not believable to me. So it is with most of the other OT stories.

Likewise, I do not believe in the whole virgin birth thing and therefore the rest of the story is also suspect. Could it have happened? Sure - but I doubt it did. Is the story nice, does it build faith in God? Yep, and maybe that's all that matters. I do believe there was a man named Jesus who lived upon the earth and who perhaps taught some revolutionary things (although I don't see that he really taught anything the Jews didn't already know - He did simplify things, though). From the accounts we have of him, most of which we now know were written after his death and some by people who never actually met Jesus, it does not appear that he actually did all of the things they say He did and said. I am not sure He was the Son of God (did He actually ever say that?) or the promised Messiah, or the Savior and Redeemer - but I hope he was at least some of that.

So that's what Christmas is to me, a hope in a loving and caring God. This, of course, is my post transition view, and I am comfortable with it. I will continue to follow our family tradition and on Christmas Eve we will read the story (mostly from Luke) together and we'll watch "It's a Wonderful Life" and go to bed. Both of those stories are fictional, in my view, but I like them and they make me feel good.
In the absence of knowledge or faith there is always hope.

Once there was a gentile...who came before Hillel. He said "Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it."

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mom3
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Re: Do you Believe in Christmas?

Post by mom3 » 04 Dec 2014, 09:51

And did this view develop prior to changes in your view of church and church history, or along with that some faith transition?
Great question Heber - It began before FC, yet looking back I sense that a Faith or Practice Transition was almost in Gods plan for me. It's weird to say but there are marker moments and this is one of them.

My kids attended a public school with largely evangelical kids, the year The Nativity Movie came out the kids were all wired with debate points about the authenticity of the movie. One such conversation happened in our home. I only listened but the debate was in the idea that the Nativity didn't happen in December.

At the time I was fully TBM, and I smugly thought - we knew it years ago. April 6. Days later I realized the paradox in our situation. As Mormons' we love to be unique - so why didn't we go off and create a Mormon Christmas where we "truly" honored Christ's birthday. It was my first real wrestle. Eventually I concluded that it didn't matter when the real birthday was because being a Christian we should be honoring Him with the gifts of our life everyday. And since I had deep fond memories of December Christmas - I would be fine letting it remain.

On a side note I wish the church would encourage local wards and stakes to put aside regular Sunday lessons, talks, etc and make December a Christmas/Christ blow out. Seriously.
"I stayed because it was God and Jesus Christ that I wanted to follow and be like, not individual human beings." Chieko Okazaki Dialogue interview

"I am coming to envision a new persona for the Church as humble followers of Jesus Christ....Joseph and his early followers came forth with lots of triumphalist rhetoric, but I think we need a new voice, one of humility, friendship and service. We should teach people to believe in God because it will soften their hearts and make them more willing to serve." - Richard Bushman

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hawkgrrrl
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Re: Do you Believe in Christmas?

Post by hawkgrrrl » 04 Dec 2014, 10:37

My skeptical side has always wondered about the virgin birth aspect, specifically Jesus' parentage. For biblical scholars, from what I've read, that's a late addition to bolster his teaching by making him divine. I like the idea on some level, but as a human, it sounds fairly convenient and common for a young girl to get pregnant and state she didn't have sex. So I'm sure that makes me a horrible person. And yet 1 in 200 report virgin births: http://articles.latimes.com/2013/dec/24 ... y-20131223

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Re: Do you Believe in Christmas?

Post by SunbeltRed » 04 Dec 2014, 11:13

There's a great scene in the movie 'Saved' (I recommend it if you haven't seen it), where the pregnant Christian teenage girl says something to the effect "Maybe Mary just got knocked up and so she made up the story about getting pregnant..I don't think she did but I can understand why someone would."

This thread made me think of that scene.

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Heber13
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Re: Do you Believe in Christmas?

Post by Heber13 » 04 Dec 2014, 11:41

mom3 wrote:At the time I was fully TBM, and I smugly thought - we knew it years ago. April 6. Days later I realized the paradox in our situation. As Mormons' we love to be unique - so why didn't we go off and create a Mormon Christmas where we "truly" honored Christ's birthday. It was my first real wrestle. Eventually I concluded that it didn't matter when the real birthday was because being a Christian we should be honoring Him with the gifts of our life everyday. And since I had deep fond memories of December Christmas - I would be fine letting it remain.
Exactly my point!!! And I think many TBMs think in the same terms...there is a bit of accepting things that are not fully restored to truth but accepting some things as they are (like Christmas), but feeling like we are unique to have many things restored with certainty (April 6th). Can we not apply that same acceptance to other things Mormon (for example, like BoA), even if it was thought or even taught by prophets in the past it was literal history (of Abraham from scrolls)?

I also accept Christmas stuff as traditions, and see the good in it. I don't think it was all literal or historical. But I still believe in the value of this for our family.

I just think if people can be comfortable with doing that with some things, why not with other things? Why not accept many things are less literal but still have value? We do it with Christmas.
Luke: "Why didn't you tell me? You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father."
Obi-Wan: "Your father... was seduced by the dark side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true... from a certain point of view."
Luke: "A certain point of view?"
Obi-Wan: "Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to...depend greatly on our point of view."

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